Du Plessis facing humiliation as England dominate day

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Close of play report (third Test, day 4)

England 353 & 313-8 dec South Africa 175 & 117-4 (Elgar 72*, Bavuma 16*)

If he wasn't aware already, South Africa captain Faf du Plessis was this evening made horribly cognizant of the dramatic changes in fortune cricket can deal its protagonists as South Africa's top order succumbed again to England's pace attack in the final session at the Oval

Du Plessis, who only two weeks ago was relishing a huge victory over England on his return as captain at Trent Bridge, had to number himself among a batting line-up forced to bow before a home side given stimulus by a couple of men performing at the height of their powers: the inimitable Ben Stokes and Toby Roland-Jones, a cricketer enjoying a debut Test beyond his wildest dreams.

Du Plessis, dismissed leg-before shouldering arms to James Anderson in the first innings for a single, compounded his mistake in judgment by repeating the act in the second, this time to one that hooped in from Stokes. It was the first ball he had received and left South Africa wobbling at 52 for four and likely to go 2-1 down in the series today.

He was the second victim of wickets Stokes claimed in successive balls, the Durham all-rounder having switched back to over the wicket to the right-hander having already ripped out the left-handed Quinton de Kock's middle stump with a stunning yorker from round the wicket.

The wickets formed part of a mini-collapse of three for five from a score of 47-1 that was again initiated by Roland-Jones, the five-wicket hero of the South Africa first innings, as he once more got rid of the adhesive Hashim Amla. Amla tried his hardest to resist a fullish ball outside his off stump, but his last-instant attempt to drag his bat out of the way of the delivery only succeeded in glancing the ball off the face low to Joe Root at second slip.

Dean Elgar continued to prosper in his peculiarly unwatchable way. Dropped by Keaton Jennings diving to his left at third slip from the unfortunate Jimmy Anderson on nine, the dogged left-handed opener had to draw on his reserves of character to grope his way to another Test fifty, his ninth. By the close, he had progressed to 72. And he had found a partner in Temba Bavuma who mirrored his resilient approach.

Heino Kuhn had been the first man to go, skittled by a beauty from Stuart Broad that shot back off the pitch and caught him in no man's land but Elgar and Amla had advanced cautiously before Roland-Jones inspired the rush of wickets.

South Africa had been set.a world record 492 to win as England declared five minutes before the tea interval was due.

Root and Tom Westley scored fifties – respectively their 29th and first in Test cricket – after Jennings had failed by two runs to reach his first in England. The home selectors, looking desperately for a man with the skills to partner Alastair Cook for the long-term – and especially at the Ashes – may feel now is the time to give Mark Stoneman of Surrey a chance while there is still a world-class attack in town.

Batting against the West Indies, who follow as opponents after the fourth Test of this series, is unlikely to provide too many clues on that front.

Stokes and Jonny Bairstow pushed on, at times so adventurously that it began to look as if England were seeking a declaration before tea. The pair added 49 in under eight overs before Stokes, who had again selflessly adapted his approach to the needs of the side after a mature knock in the first innings, swung across one too many from Chris Morris and was bowled for 31.

Bairstow, a mixture of uppercuts, chops and heavy drives, raced to 52 from 50 balls. With Roland-Jones, who cracked another quickfire undefeated 23 that included two strong clouts for six to his 25 at a run a ball in the first innings, he added 46 in 6.4 overs, before the England wicketkeeper holed out on the long-off boundary for 63.

Teatime score (third Test, day 4) England 353 & 313-8 dec South Africa 175

Joe Root and Tom Westley scored fifties to put any target beyond the reach of South Africa before an assault from Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow – who reached his own half-century shortly before tea – ensured the tourists would need to score a world record of almost 500 to take a 2-1 lead in the series at the Oval.

Root moved to his half-century – his 29th in this form of the game – shortly after he had lost Westley, who, having reached the landmark on his debut, was stumped off the left-arm spin of Keshav Maharaj.

The England captain joined him in the pavilion when he tried to slog sweep, caught in the deep by Morne Morkel. He seemed to lose control of the shot, his bottom hand coming off the bat, as he dragged the ball from outside off stump.

He had batted for 94 balls and hit six fours – the ninth successive Test in which he has scored a fifty.

Westley's effort was more more workmanlike, taking 119 balls.

After they, and the unfortunate Dawid Malan, who got another excellent delivery, this time from Chris Morris, were dismissed, Stokes and Bairstow led the charge to take the lead well past the 400 mark.

The pair added 49 in under eight overs before Stokes, who had again selflessly adapted his approach to the needs of the side after a mature knock in the first innings, swung across one too many from Morris and was bowled for 31.

Bairstow, a mixture of uppercuts, chops and heavy drives, raced to 52 from 50 balls, suggesting that England fancied declaring before tea to give their bowlers two cracks of the whip against the South Africa openers.

But as the England wicketkeeper and Toby Roland-Jones, enjoying an astounding debut Test, galloped on, Root decided to keep his players out there until five minutes before the interval, when Bairstow was caught on the long-off boundary, by which time the lead had stretched to a daunting 491.

Westley, who had impressed with a number of flowing boundaries before the rain came on Saturday, found his timing much harder to come by this morning. Too often he was seen inadvertently closing the face of the bat as he drove – a technical issue that he was witnessed working on with batting coach Mark Ramprakash before the start of play.

He had picked up only four runs in the first 40 minutes as Kagiso Rabada and Morkel operated in tandem but Root gave the England innings the impetus it needed, even if South Africa captain Faf du Plessis stationed a deep backward point for his England counterpart from the outset of his innings.

It is one of Root's favourite scoring areas and a similar tactic had frustrated him at Trent Bridge. Root, however, soon adjusted his radar, driving straighter to the extra cover boundary, then back-cutting Morris for another four, both times leaving the sweeper helpless.

When the fifty partnership duly arrived, Westley's contribution had been just 14.

The ball was still doing plenty, to keep all the seamers interested, Rabada in particulary continuing to beat Root with away movement even as the Yorkshireman was finding his range.

Earlier, Keaton Jennings fell two runs short of a second Test half-century to leave the question about Alastair Cook's long-term opening partner still unanswered.

Jennings, the South-Africa born left-hander, was taken by surprise by a quick lifter from Rabada that he fended to Morris at gully after adding 14 to his overnight score. He had begun to look more fluent on Saturday afternoon, raising hopes that he would cement his place in the side with a big score today, but after picking up three more boundaries, largely from thick outside edges, he was caught off-guard as Rabada cranked his pace up to 90mph.

The series that follows the remaining Test in this one is against a West Indies shorn of some of their best players – not to mention short on confidence – and is unlikely to tell us that much about the abilities of whoever will ultimately get the nod to open the innings with Cook in Australia this winter.

The selectors might prefer to take a look at Mark Stoneman, the Surrey opener, and by pitching him in against South Africa against a bowling attack at least as strong as they they are likely to encounter Down Under.

Lunchtime score (third Test, day 4)

England 353 & 153-2 (Westley 50* Root 38*) South Africa 175

Keaton Jennings fell two runs short of a second Test half-century leaving the question about Alastair Cook's long-term opening partner still unanswered as England attempted to build on their lead on the fourth morning at the Oval.

But, following Toby Roland-Jones's bowling exploits, Tom Westley continued to make this a Test for England's debutants as shortly before lunch he reached a first international fifty. It was a deserved reward for the 28-year-old who, though occasionally raising doubts about his technique, especially through the off-side, battled on to reach his landmark from 119 balls with nine fours.

Jennings, the South-Africa born left-hander, was taken by surprise by a quick lifter from Kagiso Rabada that he fended to Chris Morris at gully after adding 14 to his overnight score. He had begun to look more fluent on Saturday afternoon, raising hopes that he would cement his place in the side with a big score today, but after picking up three more boundaries, largely from thick outside edges, he was caught off-guard as Rabada cranked his pace up to 90mph.

Westley, who had impressed with a number of flowing boundaries before the rain came yesterday, found his timing much harder to come by this morning. Too often he was seen inadvertently closing the face of the bat as he drove – a technical issue that he was witnessed working on with batting coach Mark Ramprakash before the start of play.

He had picked up only four runs in the first 40 minutes as Rabada and Morne Morkel operated in tandem but Joe Root gave the England innings the impetus it needed, even if South Africa captain Faf du Plessis stationed a deep backward point for his England counterpart from the outset of his innings.

It is one of Root's favourite scoring areas and a similar tactic had frustrated him at Trent Bridge by cutting fours down to singles and a couple of aggressive shots in that area today brought him only two instead of eight. Root, however, soon adjusted his radar, driving straighter to the extra cover boundary, then back-cutting Chris Morris for another four, both times leaving the sweeper helpless.

Root had moved on to 33 before Westley reached double figures for the day with a lovely forcing shot off the back foot off Vernon Philander and when the fifty partnership duly arrived, Westley's contribution had been just 14.

The ball was still doing plenty, to keep all the seamers interested, Rabada in particulary continuing to beat Root with away movement even as the Yorkshireman was growing in confidence.

England's selection panel will have to think long and hard about whether to retain Jennings for the fourth Test at Old Trafford, which starts on Friday. Although there were signs of a return to form in his innings of 48, it means he has scored just 92 in six innings in the series.

The series against a West Indies, shorn of some of their best players – not to mention short on confidence – is unlikely to tell us that much about the abilities of whoever will ultimately get the nod to open the innings with Cook in Australia this winter. Surely the selectors will want to have a look at Mark Stoneman, the Surrey opener, who was widely tipped to be included for this Test, against the kind of strong bowling attack they are likely to encounter Down Under.

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